Schiavoni: Bill could be blueprint to destroy schools

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By Marc Kovac


The Republican leader of the Ohio Senate defended legislation passed last year that allowed the takeover of the failing Youngstown school district.

During a panel discussion this week in Columbus, Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said the school district had opportunities to change course but failed to do so.

“For years and years, we kept giving opportunities to succeed in the Youngstown schools program,” Faber said. “And ultimately, you’ve got a district where the vast majority of the students in that district have left the school district. You’ve got a district that has continued to not meet expectations. ... It wasn’t being managed, it wasn’t being run.”

But Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, said the Youngstown Plan gives “a CEO unfettered access to break teachers’ contracts and turn public schools into charter schools. That’s what the bill does.”

“Nobody wants to talk about what the bill actually says,” Schiavoni said. “They want to talk about all of the fluffiness of it, helping kids and we had to do this and all this stuff. What it really does is just put one person in charge to make all the decisions.”

He added, “I hope it works ... but on paper, it could truly be the blueprint to destroy Youngstown schools and other urban schools that fall under the same situation.”

Faber and Schiavoni were part of a panel during the Ohio Associated Press’ Legislative Preview, a daylong event that gave reporters from across the state a chance to ask state officials questions on different issues.

The plan came up during questioning about educational reform.

Faber said a group of community leaders came together and developed a plan to improve that district.

“Nothing would make me happier if the Youngstown community would come together and say ‘this is our plan to make our schools successful and this is what we’re going to do to get there,’” Faber said. “But you can’t do the opposite. You can’t say we’re going to continue to ignore failure because the local community seems to not be able to come together on how to fix the problem.”

The Youngstown plan was added as a last-minute amendment to separate legislation in June, establishing a process for failing school districts to be placed in the hands of an appointed chief executive officer.

The latter would have authority to replace school administrators and central office staff, close schools, hire new employees, set teacher class loads, curriculum, class sizes and compensation rates, among other administrative decisions.

The local school board, Youngstown-area lawmakers and others were not involved in the development of the legislation, which was kept under wraps until the day lawmakers approved the amendment. Groups subsequently filed suit to try to stop the plan from taking effect.

Schiavoni said the process did not give local officials control to make needed improvements.

“Youngstown is struggling because the students at the school come from places that, some of them, are not the most-nurturing places in the world,” Schiavoni said.

Schiavoni said lawmakers should instead provide schools with the resources they need to help students succeed and create more connections between schools and their communities.

“Instead of doing bills like this, we should do bills that make investments into those particular kids and into those particular school districts,” he said.

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